A Day in the Life of an Animal Shelter Volunteer

May 16, 2013

Too often, I have heard people who claim to love animals say that they could never volunteer at an animal shelter. They say that such work would be too heartbreaking for them. I tell them that what is heartbreaking is not volunteering at an animal shelter. An animal shelters volunteer figures prominently in the working day of an animal shelter. Upon arriving, they sign in and may perform most any task they are qualified for. This usually consists of taking the dogs from their kennels and walking them around the grounds.


Animal shelter employees are busy in the everyday tasks of administration, scheduling shots, maintenance, receiving animals, interviewing potential pet adaptors, and tending to the various needs of each animal. There is not a great deal of time to give each animal the love, attention, and exercise they crave. However, an animal shelters volunteer can take the dog out of its kennel, give it treats, walk it, run it, brush it, or simply sit with it in a quiet area, pet it and talk to it.


Dogs are usually allotted a certain amount of time each day for being outside in the pens where they can run and interact with other dogs. However, it is the human interaction that is most important for a dog. A dog that is left in a kennel for too long without any human interaction can develop psychological quirks. Perhaps the most unsettling of these is when a dog begins to walk his kennel in a circle in an aimless manner. In my time as an animal shelters volunteer I found that some dogs wanted only to be held for the entire duration of my visit. Some loved to roughhouse, and others just yearned to explore and sniff. Of course, each one of them at some point would roll over onto their back and afford me the opportunity to rub their belly for as long as I wanted. What many people fail to recognize is that we have as much a need to give affection, as these dogs have the need to both give it and receive affection. Too often, after a few hours of working with the dogs at the shelter, I would wonder who derived the greater benefit; the dog or me? The only thing heartbreaking about volunteering at an animal shelter is the failure to volunteer.

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